Hispanic Roundtable hosts forum to discuss, debate election issues
By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent
Cleveland: Growing in population with increasing political issues, the Latino community is an essential bloc of voters. After the Hispanic Roundtable’s Candidate’s Night Forum on Oct. 18, 2012 at La Sagrada Familia Church, they are becoming better educated and empowered.
More than 300 people packed the gym to meet 30 candidates running for elective office and heard about important issues like the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools Levy and were encouraged to vote Yes on Issue 2, State of Ohio Redistricting.
Activist Rubén Castilla Herrera said Issue 2 is an important vote to protect the voice of voters and prevent misuse of redistricting. If approved, an independent commission would determine boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. Education is one of the most worrisome issues for the Latino community with an alarming dropout rate from high school. The school levy is in its second stage; if approved it will have four years to reform the schooling system.
“Our numbers are growing and we will be the balance of power in this election and in every election in the foreseeable future. We want to help prepare our community to make informed decisions at the polls,” said José Feliciano, Chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable, which co-hosted the political forum. The population has seen an increase of 40 percent since the 2008 elections, with 62,725 Latino residents in Cuyahoga County. Only 40 percent of those residents are registered to vote.
Regional candidates talked briefly about what to expect if they are elected, and were faced with hard questions by a panel of Young Latino Network (YLN) members. From promises of fair courtrooms to plans for increasing employment and reforming unfair laws hindering small business progress through the Common Sense Intelligence Office (CSI), candidates made efforts to distinguish their records and clarify their stances.
Although not involved in the current elections Donna W. Walker Brown attended the forum to introduce herself as the mayoral candidate for the City of Cleveland in 2013, saying education is a priority for her.
Rick Cyngier, State Assembly Representative for District 14, said education needs to be reformed, “We don’t need more teachers, we need better teachers.” He also advocates changing laws so online sales would be taxed, “So we do not have local businesses losing out money because consumers can purchase across state lines for less.”
Minority leader Armond Budish—a Democrat—from District 8 spoke strongly against any laws in Ohio that would resemble Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, and said Ohio was built on immigrants and will always welcome immigrants, “Because that is how we create jobs.”
US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (Democrat, 9th District) was asked to defend her vote against the DREAM Act and if she favored the legislation now. Kaptur said her vote against the DREAM Act in December of 2010 was only because of the lack of comprehensive immigration reform legislation as she views it as unfair that only certain children can receive protection while their families are left in the dark. Ms. Kaptur has since gone on the record that she now supports the DREAM Act.
Juan Sepúlveda, Former Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, represented Pres. Barack Obama and defended Obama’s performance in the past years saying in context of the resistance the administration accomplished a lot in terms of health care reform and increasing the employment in the Latino population.
He said the DREAM Act’s failure was not due to a lack of commitment by the President. Sepúlveda said the administration has worked tirelessly behind the scene to change unfair laws such as the 3-10 year bar that was passed by Congress in 1996. The law requires any alien who applies for green card through marriage to return to the country of origin and be subject to a 3 to 10 years bar from re-entry.
While many do not apply for a hardship waiver, Sepúlveda said 85 percent of applicants receive it. The Deferred Action for undocumented minors plan went into effect August 15 and he said the feedback from it has been a positive one. When pressed by the YLN panel to respond to criticism that the President is not a strong leader and unable to chart a course, Sepúlveda posed a question; “Ask yourself if any of his policies have made a different in your lives.”
Republican Hector Barreto, former administrator of the US Small Business Administration represented presidential candidate Mitt Romney and clarified that if elected Romney would not deport those who benefited from the Differed Action Plan. He did not clarify Romney’s stance on reversing it but added; “It’s a shame that President Obama only introduced the Deferred Action Plan with only two months left in the election.”
Republican candidate Romney did tell Iowans earlier in the Republican primaries that he would veto any DREAM Act legislation.
Barreto said Romany is a man who understands business and jobs will be the number one priority, “Governor Romney is a good man and he will work for 100 percent of the people.” Barreto said Obama administration policies have not brought back the jobs, or helped small businesses, “Consider the possibility of a new kind of leadership,” he said adding that Ohio is a key battleground state and each vote matters.
Hispanas Organizadas de Lake y Ashtabula (HOLA) filled the room with bright yellow shirts, bringing a strong community of 130 people from Akron, Painesville, and Lorain, Ohio.